And then there were eight. Three quarters of the league are on their holidays, relaxing on beaches and nursing their poor battered bodies with copious amounts of steaks and massages. Right now they’re probably having a breakfast sandwich and hanging out with their families, before dropping little Jimmy and Jane off at school and mowing the lawn with a sense of deep seeded accomplishment.
These eight teams have to keep going to work, though. Doesn’t seem fair to me, but hey ho.
This game is not going to be anywhere near as cut and dried as you’re being told it will be. The narrative states this is simply the first game in the Chief’s long march to the Super Bowl, and even the +5 spread being given to the Colts looks generous. Let me tell you the two reasons why this is not the case.
The first reason is that the Chiefs, for all of their offensive prowess, have a leaky defense. It’s the second-worst in the league, giving up an average of 405.5 YPG, and the worst offender in that category is a pass defense which gives up 273.4 YPG.
“Now Ben,” I hear you cry, “surely that is just a symptom of the fact that the Chiefs are usually well ahead, so teams have to throw and chase scores to try and keep up?”
That is an excellent point. However, if the person throwing at your leaky secondary is Andrew Luck then that is a grave cause for concern. Defending too hard against Luck opened the Texans up to conceding 200 net rushing yards as Marlon Mack ran riot. Despite their well-earned hype, the Chiefs are not invincible. They need to control this game, not open it up by inviting Colts’ aggression.
The second point is another one of these famous intangibles: Andy Reid and his playoff yips. He was famous for it in Philadelphia, and things have only gotten worse in Kansas City. During his time as Chiefs’ head coach he’s 1-4 in the postseason. Whether it’s pure dumb luck or a case of choking, Reid’s teams collapse come January.
The Chiefs are still rightly favourites, but it is not cut and dried.
This game, though, should be more like supermarket rosemary. Which is to say, entirely cut and dried.
Granted, the Rams didn’t finish the season strongly. They lost two of their last four games back-to-back against fellow playoff teams the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. Jared Goff went right off the boil too, throwing six interceptions across the last six games after only throwing six through the first eleven. However, two easier games against the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers seem to have righted the good ship Ram.
The Cowboys’ best hopes of coming away with a result will lie in establishing a good running game with Ezekiel Elliott, and hoping that pushing the Rams’ focus on that will open up opportunities for Dak Prescott to find revolutionary receiver Amari Cooper. However, with defensive MVP candidate Aaron Donald, tackle machine Cory Littleton, and the all-over-terrifying Ndamukong Suh stuffing the box, it’ll be easier said than done.
Over the course of the season, the Rams have outscored the Cowboys by over ten points per game on average. If the inferior Seahawks could stretch the Cowboys with only a seven point advantage, expect the added firepower in LA to send Jerry Jones’ boys home.
This is the hardest game to call of the weekend for the simple fact that I can almost guarantee you that neither team will line up as we’ve seen recently.
In their superb shutdown of the Baltimore Ravens, the LA Chargers went absolutely bonkers and decided to play with seven defensive backs for over half the game. All season long, they’d only played in that formation for 5% of plays. They’ll no doubt have a different look for Tom Brady et al.
Conversely, the Patriots are simply the best coached team in the history of the game. They’ll have a gameplan which revolves around one or two players, perhaps players we haven’t seen all year, and they’ll execute.
This is an incredibly even match up. All regular season, the Patriots offense only scored eight more points than the Chargers. In the same timeframe the Chargers defense only conceded four more points than the Patriots. About the only statistic where the Patriots dominate the Chargers is in turnovers, where they ended the season with a net nine more.
Normally the easy money goes on the Patriots, but recently they’ve been failing the eyeball test. Rob Gronkowski has looked like a shell of his former self, the years of injuries and surgeries stripping him of his freakish athleticism. Josh Gordon has stepped away from the game to focus on the personal issues which have disrupted his promising career.
Tom Brady has been sub-par too, and for every game where he’s padded his stats by beating up on the Jets or Dolphins there’ve been performances where he’s 1:1 in the TD to INT ratio, or, as against the Titans, completely neutered. More and more Brady has been depending on dump off passes to the inside, which are great for yardage but a killer if the Patriots ever end up chasing the game as they don’t stop the clock.
The Patriots are about the only team who actually benefit from a week away from playing, as they’ve always relied on coaching more than momentum. On the other side of things, though, you’ve got the Chargers who at this point are being driven across the country on pure momentum.
This is still the Patriots’ game to lose, but we’re not going overboard: the Chargers could very easily spoil the party.
At what point does the Eagles’ luck run out? Seriously. Not only did it take a ridiculous hot streak of games with Nick Foles at the helm to pull them kicking and screaming into the playoffs, but poor Cody Parker missed what would have been a game winning field goal for Chicago by hitting BOTH the post and the bar. Surely they can’t do it again. Right?
After all, the Saints are an absolute force to be reckoned with. They not only score an obscene amount of points (3rd best, at 31.5 PPG) but unlike their high scoring compatriots, the Rams and Chiefs, the Saints defense can stand up to scrutiny. While the Eagles defense is only the 23rd best in the league, the Saints’ is riding high with the 14th.
The Saints have 14 more net turnovers than the Eagles too, and Drew Brees could lead his team downfield while doing the Bird Box challenge. They are a vastly superior team in absolutely every department.
So why does it feel like, as time ticks down, the Eagles will be on the goaline trying to win?